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     Volume 8 Issue 93 | November 6, 2009 |

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Current Affairs

Saving Time?

Ershad Kamol

Lately the cabinet has set new timings for non-government offices and educational and financial institutions as the government has made the decision to continue with the daylight saving time for an indefinite period. The cabinet has approved the new office time for semi-government offices, schools, banks and markets following the prime ministerial direction of formulating an action plan for separate timetables to ease traffic congestion in the capital. The offices of government, semi-government and autonomous agencies or institutions are now functioning in accordance with the current schedule, which is between 9:00am and 5:00pm.

According to the new regime, banks, insurance companies, other financial institutions and all non-government offices are required to function between 10:00am and 6:00pm while government primary schools and kindergartens are to remain open from 9:30am to 4:15pm. Secondary, higher secondary and English-medium schools and madrasas are told to open their doors at 7:30am and 8:30am and close between 1:30pm and 2:30pm.

Meanwhile the ongoing Daylight Saving Time (DST), which started on June 19, has been given a new lease of life. This means offices and businesses will open and close an hour earlier than they used to. The system was introduced to save electricity for the evening.

So far the government has not informed the public exactly how much benefit has been achieved by introducing the DST. However, the new timetable, since its inception, has spelt a lot of suffering for the ordinary people. "After the introduction of the new school timing, our classes start at 7:30 in the morning. Actually it is 6:30," says Rokhsana Akhtar a high school student, "To attend the school in time I've to wake up at 4: 30 am. Compare to previous years I'm actually waking up two hours before. Just imagine what trouble my family is going through only to take me to school on time. And I don't know how my mother will do it in the coming winter when classes will start before dawn. If that happens schools will need electricity as otherwise it will be dark inside the classrooms. For that more electricity will be needed. Then how will this new system save electricity?"

Rokhsana's mother Aliya Khan works at a bank, and she has to work till 8 at night in her office, because of the new office timing. Aliya says, "I come back home at 10 and I cannot go to bed before midnight. Then I have to wake up at dawn to take my son to his school. Just imagine how tough life is these days!"

She also says that traffic these days is particularly bad, sometimes the mother and the son don't get any transportation, since rickshaw pullers and CNG drivers don't follow the DST.

Urban planners, on the other hand, believe that by entering the new time zone without doing any detailed study has rather stretched out the nagging jam throughout the day. "Traffic jam begins when people go out for various purposes. Since the introduction of the DST and the new office timing, traffic begins from 10 in the morning and continues throughout the day," says urban planner Professor Mahbubun Nabi, "Conceptually such initiatives are ok, however, there is no practical impact of it unless other modes of traffic managements are introduced after a comprehensive study done by the experts. We have always seen the government take such initiatives without doing any detailed study. Take the government ban of rickshaws on many roads. But has the situation improved? Traffic management is not an easy task. Only proper implementation of the design after a thorough study by the experts can give relief from the traffic jam."

Professor Nazrul Islam suggests improvement of the signalling system, improvement of pavements for the movement of the pedestrians, relocation of the industries from the centre of the city and decentralisation of the offices from the centre of the city. However, he does not believe that the government's decision of shifting a part of the secretariat to Sher-e-Bangla Nagar will improve the situation. "It will create more traffic jam in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, since the area has limited access because of the location of the cantonment," he says.

Professor Islam suggests repealing the DST. "The DST is not effective in a tropical country like Bangladesh. Such plans work in the polar countries where there is a huge gap between day and night during the winter and summer. After the introduction of the new office timing, the DST has become a huge burden on the public," says Professor Islam.

To ease the public suffering it is expected that the government repeal the DST especially since the new office timing has been introduced. To get the benefit from the new timings, the government should also introduce other short-term interventions to improve traffic management. Simultaneously, the government should go for mid term and long-term action plans based on detailed studies. Besides making the plans, it is crucial that the government, especially the PM’s office, monitors the implementations of these plans. Unfortunately it's a common feature in Bangladesh that even the most well thought-out plans do not see the light of the day. The Prime Minister has already instructed the government agencies to take immediate steps to improve the situation. Even the Communications Minister has shown his concern. Dhaka's millions of citizens are waiting for some immediate government action to relieve them from the agony of avoidable gridlocks.

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